In a recent column that I did on affirmative action, I committed a grievous error. I noted that Lani Guinier had to withdraw her name from consideration for the post of U. S. Attorney General because of the public disclosure over her hiring of an illegal alien. This was incorrect on two counts: the job and the charge.
Miss Guinier was up for another job at Justice. Moreover, the controversy surrounding her was over her views on affirmative action. Related to that original article, I have a question that I have been asking of federal officials for more than a decade. The question is: are immigrants covered under affirmative action law?
The answer to that query should prove more than academically interesting. We now know that immigrants and their offspring make up a good portion of the black students in the highest-rated most competitive schools. If they did not take their places due to quotas, did they actually matriculate the old-fashioned way, due to individual effort? If so, then we can learn something from their experience.
But I honestly do not know the answer to that question, which is why I keep asking it. There is an even bigger question that I would like the answer to. That question is: have any American blacks benefited from affirmative action?
Note that the uptick in employment numbers usually comes from government payrolls. Public officials can pad these any way they want to, and historically have. I will never forget hearing one of the authors of that original affirmative action law say, in 1995, “I think that you can see the greatest gains in employment.” With the law already in place two decades, could she not even give an educated guess?
Still, I thought that the educational establishment could run a McDonald’s-style “billions served” claim on its part of AA law. After all, that which the government runs and funds it can cook and season.
Surprisingly, here too the forecasts are rather dismal. The summer before last, I heard a law professor from Georgetown who supports AA confidently claim that affirmative action led to a two percent annual increase in minority college enrollments. A nice girl from the People for the American Way pointed out that the gain would have been less impressive without affirmative action. (It’s always hard to measure something that happened against something that didn’t.) Those “gains” look particularly bleak when compared to the proportion of students who complete work on their degree (three-quarters of the total student population, all races, as of the last reckoning).
Additionally, we have an intriguing study from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia which shows that in the 20th Century, blacks did make some educational gains even before the Civil Rights revolution. One of the study’s authors told me that he attributes these pre-Brown gains to the efforts of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
That provides a basis for still further inquiry, particularly for those of us who grew up in the post-segregation era. Strictly speaking, the HBCUs were segregated. Could the reason for their success have been, not the odious policy of segregation but the curricula and standards of the old HBCUs?
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.